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by John J. Snyder, Jr.

Fig. 1: Tall-case clock with dial marked Jacob Klingman/Reading; the case: York County, PA, ca. 1808–1809. Walnut primary wood, H. 96 in. Private collection; photography courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York.
With every good mystery there is the question of who done it. In the instance of a lavishly inlaid tall clock seemingly from Pennsylvania1 (Fig. 1), the questions widen beyond the who to include for whom and from where. The mystery surrounding this clock is probably a more common situation than many of us realize.

While it may be ideal to imagine a craftsman working at his bench year after year in a recognizable style, the reality is that many early American artisans had to make decisions still pertinent to business today. This often meant relocating or integrating the newest fashions into their products to stay viable. This continually changing work environment is often a cause of confusion among scholars and collectors in verifying the origin of some American furniture. What follows is the unraveling of a story that demonstrates the importance of thinking beyond traditional concepts of craft practices and business.

The tall clock in Figure 1 bears two inscriptions that apparently identify the place of origin and original ownership. The painted dial is signed Jacob Klingman/Reading. A piece of paper glued to the inside of the case states the clock’s provenance: This clock was bought in the lator [sic] part of the eighteenth century by Jacob Kline who died in 1836 and through his wife who was my aunt on my Father’s side it came into my possession in 1845. Agnes C. (Welsh) Spangler, Dec. 25, 1901.

Ostensibly, it would seem that the case was made in or near Reading, the seat of Berks County, Pennsylvania, where clockworks maker Jacob Klingman operated a shop from 1781 to 1806. The walnut case, however, features inlaid stringing, quarter fans, and medallions in the style found on Baltimore, Maryland, cases (Figs. 2–4), which do not relate to the known cabinetwork from Berks County.2 Furthermore, Berks County records made no mention of the Kline, Welsh, and Spangler families listed as owners of the clock.

Such contradictory evidence raised the possibility that the case and movement might be associated, or “married.” Careful examination, however, revealed no conclusive signs that the case ever housed another movement. A logical explanation was then needed to discern why a Reading clock face was in a case with no Berks County design characteristics or history.

Since the clock case did not correspond to known Berks County examples, the next step was to stylistically relate the case to a clock with a substantiated origin, thereby making a connection to a region or community by association. In all the publications on American clocks, the case that was most similar was published in 1947 by Carl W. Dreppard in American Clocks and Clock Makers3 (Fig. 5). Although a visual comparison of the cases revealed variations perhaps suggesting a different cabinetmaker, this case shares many attributes with the case of the Klingman clock. The similarities include extensive inlays usually ascribed to Baltimore manufacture, the border of the trunk or waist door, and a kylix with rectangular framing inlaid on the plinth. The dial of the clock illustrated in 1947 was marked by Jacob Hostetter, a clockmaker who worked in Hanover, Pennsylvania, from the 1780s to about 1825.4 Hanover, a town in southwestern York County, was important on the Baltimore trade route, thereby providing an explanation for the Baltimore-style inlays used by several craftsmen.5 Given the relationship of the two cases, it is very likely that both were made in or near Hanover. Hanover cabinetmaker Adam Ault (1768–1848) is the strongest candidate for having made the Klingman case, as he is known for an elaborate signed case.6 There are other possible artisans, however, because an unpublished clock case with a dial signed by York clockmaker John Fisher also features a case with Baltimore-type inlays, including a medallion with an animal. Both being York County craftsmen, the assumption is that the Klingman case was also from the same region.

(left to Right) Fig. 2: Detail of inlays on pediment of clock in Fig. 1. Photography courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York.

Fig. 3: Detail of oval medallion on clock in Fig. 1. The inlay of a fox seizing a goose was inspired by Aesop’s Fables. Photography courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York.

aFig. 4: Detail of kylix inlaid on plinth of clock in Fig. 1. Photography courtesy of Sotheby’s, New York.

Fig. 5: Tall-case clock with dial signed by Jacob Hostetter of Hanover, PA, ca. 1795–1810. This photograph was reproduced in 1947 for Carl W. Dreppard’s American Clocks and Clock Makers. Feet not original; woods, dimensions, and present whereabouts unknown. Photography courtesy of The York County Heritage Trust, York, PA.
The probability that the case of the Klingman clock was made in Hanover or York suggested that its early owners resided in one of the two communities. Indeed, genealogical research revealed that the people listed in the 1901 provenance resided in Hanover. Jacob Kline (1760–1836) was a farmer and tanner in Manheim Township, York County; about 1809, he moved to nearby Hanover. On Hanover tax lists he was at times referred to as “Gentleman,” indicating that his income was derived from investments rather than a trade; in 1831, he was Chief Burgess of Hanover.7 The inventory taken in 1836 after Kline’s death included “1 Clock and Case” valued at $25.00, seemingly the Klingman clock. Thereafter, the clock passed to Kline’s widow, Christiana (Welsh) Kline (1785–1845), thence to her niece, Agnes C. (Welsh) Spangler (1827–1910), and finally to Mrs. Spangler’s son, Robert E. Spangler (1867–1955). In an unpublished genealogy, Robert E. Spangler mentions that “…the old 8 day tall clock in my possession [1931] was made to order of said Jacob Kline….”8 Thus established were the original and subsequent owners of the clock from the early 1800s to the 1950s, as well as the proposed origin of the case, leaving only questions surrounding Jacob Klingman and the Berks County dial.

Jacob Klingman was last mentioned as working in Reading, Berks County, in 1806. He apparently moved at that point, for several books on American clocks reference a Jacob Klingman/Klingaman as a clockmaker in York, Pennsylvania, the seat of the namesake county.9 Primary sources such as The Septennial Census for York list in 1807 a Jacob Klingman as a silversmith, a related trade for some clockmakers. In 1809, the estate account of the York clockmaker John Fisher recorded payments to “J. Klingman” for a “clock face” and “finishing [a] clock.” The ledger of the York clockmaker and silversmith Godfrey Lenhart mentioned a Jacob Klingman between 1811 and 1816.10 From these diverse sources, it is apparent that Jacob Klingman moved from Reading to York about 1806–1807.

The riddle of a Reading dial on a clock with a Hanover history is resolved if one assumes that Klingman brought this completed clock face, and possibly others, with him when he moved to York. Jacob Kline possibly commissioned the clock case about 1808–1809, when he was moving from the country to Hanover. Although the time lag associated with the dial face was of a year or more, the decoration was not outdated. Yet the location on the dial was a different town and county. It is therefore plausible, given both these points, that Kline accepted the dial only because he received it at a reduced price. If this had happened, Klingman saved time and money by not reworking the dial, and Kline paid less for a perfectly good timepiece.

The process undertaken to solve the mystery of the Klingman clock was more circuitous than many research projects, but indicates the various levels and paths of investigation at times necessary to ascertain the relationships and craft and business practices of artisans and the origins of their furniture. The satisfaction of having successfully knit together the history of the clock face and owner is matched by that of being able to identify the origins of the clock case, which may be regarded as one of the most elaborate pieces of York County Federal furniture, albeit retaining a rather conservative Chippendale form. Collectively, the cases from this York County group illustrate the cultural and economic interaction between Baltimore and inland Pennsylvania in the early 1800s—but that is a topic for another time.

I wish to thank J. Michael Flanigan for his assistance.

John J. Snyder, Jr., is an independent scholar specializing in the decorative arts and furniture of inland Pennsylvania. He has published in The Magazine Antiques, The Journal of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, and The Journal of the Lancaster County Historical Society, among others.


  1. Important Americana, American Furniture and Folk Art, Sotheby’s, New York, January 18, 1998, Lot 1701. The clock was purchased by J. Michael Flanigan and sold privately.
  2. Richard S. and Rosemarie B. Machmer (originators), Berks County Tall-Case Clocks 1750 to 1850 (Reading, PA: The Historical Society of Berks County, 1995), particularly illustrations on the following pages: 39, 44, 48, 56, 57, 59, 61, 68, 70, and 71.
  3. Carl W. Dreppard, American Clocks and Clock Makers (Boston, MA: C.T. Branford Co., 1947), p. 163.
  4. John R. McGrew, “Hanover, Pennsylvania, Clockmakers, Watchmakers and Silversmiths,” NAWCC Bulletin, Vol. 37/3, No. 296 (June 1995): 351.
  5. For Baltimore inlay specialists, see Sumpter Priddy III, J. Michael Flanigan, and Gregory R. Weidman, “The Genesis of Neoclassical Style in Baltimore Furniture,” American Furniture 2000 (Hanover, NH, and London: Chipstone Foundation, 2000), pp. 59–99.
  6. For a clock case signed by Adam Ault, now in the collection of the Maryland Historical Society, see Gregory R. Weidman, Furniture In Maryland 1740–1940 (Baltimore, Maryland Historical Society, 1984), 58–59. For biographical information on Ault, see Raymond J. Brunner, That Ingenious Business—Pennsylvania German Organ Builders (Birdsboro, PA, The Pennsylvania German Society, 1990), pp. 154–155.
  7. The following sources at the York County Heritage Trust, York, PA: Kline Family File; Epitaphs from Mount Olivet Cemetery, Hanover; and Microfilms of tax lists for Manheim Township and Hanover. Deeds 2-Y-488 and 3-S-622, York County Courthouse, York. John Gibson, History of York County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: F.A. Battey Publishing Co., 1886), p. 579.
  8. Jacob Kline Estate File (1836), York County Archives, York. Robert E. Spangler, “The Welsh and Spangler Families 1737– 1939,” Genealogical Reports XXVIII, typescript at York County Heritage Trust, particularly page 53.
  9. Carl W. Dreppard, American Clocks and Clock Makers, p. 246. James W. Gibbs, Pennsylvania Clocks and Watches—Antique Timepieces and Their Makers (University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1984), p. 202. David W. Dunn, Clocks of the Susquehanna Valley 1750–1910 (Lewisburg, PA: The Packwood House Museum, 1989), p. 21.
  10. Microfilm of 1807 Septennial Census for York County, PA, at York County Heritage Trust. John Fisher Estate File (1809), York County Archives. (Godfrey Lenhart Ledger, 1778– 1819, York County Heritage Trust.)

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